Where Have all the Sparrows Gone?

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This Old Notts custom might hold an explanation

By Edna Welthorpe

The RSPB reports that the UK tree sparrow population has suffered a severe decline estimated at around 93% between 1970 and 2008.

The more familiar urban and suburban house sparrow is in only slightly better shape, with numbers having declined by upto 60%.

The reason(s), says the RSPB website, are still unclear, but in light of the current parlous state, it is perhaps sobering to read how cavalier was our attitude to this tenacious little bird in days gone by.

The following is recorded by Cornelius Brown in his book Notes About Notts published in 1874:-

“A curious ancient custom still prevails in many parishes in the county for the churchwardens to pay a premium to all persons destroying sparrows.

“According to the report of the Poor Law Commissioners, previous to the spring of 1873, it appears that in one small county parish the sum so paid by the churchwardens amounted during the preceding three years, to £54 5s. l0d.,

“... a quantity [of sparrows] which would have supported 55 paupers for 12 months..."

“Conseqnently allowing 3d. per dozen, the sum usually paid, the number of sparrows killed during the three years in that parish, must have been 52,600, and allowing 12 sparrows to weigh a pound, the whole would give a weight of 4,8381bs., or three good horse loads of l,4611bs.

“ -  a quantity which would have supported 55 paupers for 12 months, allowing each pauper half a pound of sparrows on three days in each week”.

This page was added by Edna Welthorpe on 08/03/2013.
Comments about this page

Blanket protection of all birds, including predatory Corvidae (particularly Jays and Magpies), has led to the massive decline in songbird and sparrow populations. If the meat-eating birds were regularly culled - as they always used to be - then our little garden feathered friends would soon recover.

By Ralph Lloyd-Jones
On 11/03/2013

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